by Karl Coplan

Back in April, the Bureau of Land Management halted construction on the vast 370 MW Ivanpah Solar Energy project in the Mojave desert, since construction crews found many more endangered desert tortoises on the site than were expected.  Now, the Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a revised Biological Opinion under the Endangered Species Act, which will allow construction to proceed.  Ivanapah will be required to relocate, monitor, and nurture desert tortoises that it finds on the site in order to mitigate the impacts of construction of the solar facility.

The Ivanpah conflict is an indicator of some of the conflicts that the environmental movement faces internally in pushing towards a non-fossil fuel energy economy.  Every form of energy production has environmental impacts.  Despite the aphorism to “Think globally and act locally,” the history of environmentalism is a history of community based activism advocating to protect local environmental resources.  It is no surprise that solar projects like Ivanpah attract the opposition of regional environmental groups like the Western Watersheds Project. A recent op-ed in the New York Times also comments on the conflict between renewable energy and open space preservation.

Advocates of aggressive policies to reduce global greenhouse emissions (which I count myself as one of) are first going to have to convince those within the environmental movement that converting to a renewable energy economy is a first order principle, more important even that protecting every individual local ecosystem.  If we can’t win this battle within the environmental movement, we have not hope of winning this battle among American society at large.